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Tribe builds community with Thanksgiving event

MLB.com @MLBastian

CLEVELAND -- A small boy walked through the Terrace Club at Progressive Field on Sunday afternoon, tightly hugging a box that was about as long as he was tall. Inside was a construction set. Soon enough, he would have a toy crane in front of him and his imagination would be running wild.

Over the years, the Indians have built relationships throughout the Cleveland community, and the team's annual Thanksgiving event at Progressive Field puts that on full display. Holiday music filled the room, as did the clamor of kids, families and volunteers, who came together for a feast of turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes with a view of the Indians' dormant baseball diamond.

CLEVELAND -- A small boy walked through the Terrace Club at Progressive Field on Sunday afternoon, tightly hugging a box that was about as long as he was tall. Inside was a construction set. Soon enough, he would have a toy crane in front of him and his imagination would be running wild.

Over the years, the Indians have built relationships throughout the Cleveland community, and the team's annual Thanksgiving event at Progressive Field puts that on full display. Holiday music filled the room, as did the clamor of kids, families and volunteers, who came together for a feast of turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes with a view of the Indians' dormant baseball diamond.

"There are some familiar faces that you see from year to year," said Chris Antonetti, the Indians' president of baseball operations. "And just having a chance to see the smiles on a lot of faces and the gratitude and the appreciation, it's a great way to start the holiday season. And an important thing for us within our role in the community is to give back."

In all, there were an estimated 375 guests for Sunday's event, which hosted groups from Our Lady of the Wayside, Shoes and Clothes for Kids, Boys & Girls Clubs, OhioGuidestone and The City Mission. There were also 75 volunteers, Marines on hand to help hand out gifts and the Indians' mascots -- Slider and the hot dogs -- making sure to jump into photos, dish out high fives and cause friendly mischief everywhere they went.

Tweet from @OurLadyWayside: A big THANK YOU to our friends @Indians for hosting over 70 Wayside individuals and staff this afternoon for a delicious Thanksgiving meal. We are so grateful for partners like you who help create wonderful opportunities for the individuals we serve. There were lots of smiles! pic.twitter.com/TC9LwuKPOL

As the Boys & Girls Clubs band put on a show, other kids formed a line at the back of the dining hall. Santa was there to hear their holiday wishes before the boys and girls headed up to a table to pick out a gift. That new aspect of the event was courtesy of Toys for Tots. There were also helpers making the rounds with baskets filled with books -- free for anyone who spotted a title they liked. The Cleveland Kids' Book Bank was to thank for those.

"That was so great," said Valencia Kimbrough, the Indians' manager of community impact. "The Toys for Tots, Marines, we were actually just at a meeting and I told them about this event, and they jumped right on it. It was really, really great. I'm getting chills even thinking about it. And the Cleveland Book Bank is a small partner of ours that we do small things with -- we donate books to. And we told them about this event and they were like, 'Can we just pass out books to everybody?'

"I want other organizations that have something to offer the community, that want to be a part of the community, to really embrace this event, join us and be a part of it."

The Indians' Thanksgiving event has been going on for nearly two decades, and it has grown both in terms of the number of attendees and helping hands. Antonetti was joined by general manager Mike Chernoff, plus their families, along with other members of the team's front office and ownership group.

Kimbrough wants nothing more than to see the event continue to grow.

"This is actually one of our favorite events every year," Kimbrough said. "It's actually not only building a community outside the organization, but also building a community inside the organization. We see the same volunteers want to do this event every year, which is great. And then we see some of the same people come back and we get to see the kids grow up and really embrace us as family, which Cleveland is a big family anyway."

Jordan Bastian covers the Cubs for MLB.com. He previously covered the Indians from 2011-18 and the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.

Cleveland Indians